Assemblywoman Claudia Tenney, R-New Hartford, expressed indignation Tuesday that the Oneida Indian Nation has accused her of engaging in "hate speech" after she mocked its leader, Ray Halbritter, with a tweet calling him a "Spray Tan Ray" who resembles 19th-century frontiersman Davy Crockett.
In a telephone interview, Tenney, who has been locked in a long-running battle with Halbritter, stated her comment sent out on Twitter this month "has nothing to do with race."
"I know for a fact he has a spray tan," said Tenney, who represents several towns in Delaware and Otsego counties and who noted she had represented Halbritter's ex-wife during part of her divorce from the Oneida leader.
"He pays people to say I'm racist when I'm the one working for the real Oneida Indians," said Tenney, who noted she has researched Halbritter's genealogy and determined his maternal great-grandmother was not descended from the Six Nations. "He's not even a real Oneida Indian."
Tenney's slap at Halbritter was first reported by the Utica Observer Dispatch.
In a statement, the Oneida Nation said it was "unacceptable" for Tenney to use her her office "to publicly denigrate people on the basis of their skin color."
The Oneida Nation’s businesses include Turning Stone Resort Casino.
Tenney voiced surprise that her "Spray Tan Ray" tweet drew press attention, saying, "I've been calling him 'Spray Tan Ray' for months."
Tenney has accused Halbritter of trying to sink her political career by backing her election opponents. Last year, she lost a GOP primary to Rep. Richard Hanna, R-Barneveld, before prevailing in her re-election effort for her Assembly seat.
Tenney's dig at Halbritter drew the attention of Otsego County GOP Chairman Vincent Casale. "I hope it wasn't the assemblywoman's intent to purposefully tweet a racial slur," he said. "But this goes to show you can't be too careful with what you say on social media."
In last year's Republican Assembly primary, Casale backed Tenney's opponent, Herkimer County Sheriff Chris Farber.